PITTSBURGH (AP) — An Italian heritage group in western Pennsylvania vowed to appeal a judge’s ruling that Pittsburgh officials can remove a 13-foot statue of Christopher Columbus from a city park.
Attorneys for the Italian Sons and Daughters of America have argued that the mayor doesn’t have the power to override an ordinance passed by the city council in 1955 that cleared the installation of the 800-pound statue of the explorer.
Common Pleas Judge John McVay Jr. ruled about a week ago that because the statue erected in 1958 is in a city-owned park, it represents government speech — citing a 2009 U.S. Supreme Court ruling on a Utah city rejecting a monument proposed for a city park by a religious group.
The Italian Sons and Daughters of America filed the lawsuit in October 2020 after the Pittsburgh Art Commission voted to remove the statue. Then-Mayor Bill Peduto then also recommended its removal.
McVay had for two years urged the two sides to work toward a solution, including its relocation to a different location. The statue has been vandalized numerous times and is wrapped in plastic.
“Based on the court’s ruling, the mayor can put up or take down any statue he wants on any city-owned property without regard for other branches of the city government,” the Italian Sons and Daughters of America argued. “Obviously, this cannot be correct.”
The group also appealed a previous decision by the judge declining to recuse himself from the case.
Attorney George Bochetto said Pittsburgh’s home rule charter reserves some rule-making authority for the city council. He said that because an ordinance was passed to erect the statue, that ordinance must be repealed before it can be removed, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reported.
A representative of current Pittsburgh Mayor Ed Gainey said officials are reviewing the judge’s ruling.
Supporters in Philadelphia, a city with a deep Italian heritage, say they consider Columbus an emblem of that heritage. Mayor Jim Kenney said Columbus was venerated for centuries as an explorer but had a “much more infamous” history, enslaving Indigenous people and imposing punishments such as severing limbs or even death.
After protests about racial injustice and the statue in Philadelphia in June 2020, Kenney ordered the removal of a Columbus statue in Marconi Plaza saying it was a matter of public safety. A judge last year, however, reversed the city’s decision, saying it had failed to provide evidence that the statue’s removal was necessary to protect the public.
Columbus statues have been removed in nearby Camden, New Jersey, and Wilmington, Delaware. In Richmond, Virginia, a statue of Christopher Columbus was torn down, set on fire and thrown into a lake. In Columbia, South Carolina, the first U.S. city named for Columbus, a statue of the explorer was removed after it was vandalized several times. Another vandalized statue in Boston also was removed from its pedestal.